Friday, March 30, 2012

Communalism and UK politricks

It is very sad that all of Britain's high profile socialist politicians (Ken Livingstone, George Galloway) happen also to be extremely unsavoury. I guess it's nothing new: is Galloway is the Henry Hyndman of today? Or the Oswald Mosley ca.1931?

KenWatch
I added a couple of links in the comments to my last Ken Livingstone post:, by Rob Marchant (and earlier) and Dan Hodges. Since then, Ken has made the most half-arsed apology imaginable for his antisemitic comments (read his JC article). That's at the heart of Ken's problem: utterly unable to admit error or apologise for anything, a terrible character trait. Here's more links. Adloyada: Ken Livingstone speaks from the heart; Jen Lipman: As a Jewish Labour supporter I can't back Ken; Jon Lansman: Ken and the Jews; David Osler: Shut up and vote Ken.

GalloWatch
The Ken story has of course been eclipsed by the George story, with GG winning the Bradford West by-election by a country mile. Here's some commentary: Carl Packman on the sick antisemites at the heart of Respect; Dave Semple says it's not so bad (disagreeing with his comrade Carl); Jon Lansman on austerity in Bradford; Dan Hannan on the rise of sectarian politics; Gerry Hassan on George's come-back; Representing the Mambo; Francis on the whistling of dogs and Galloway's murderous allies; Tulip Siddiq on taking the Asian vote for granted; Lucy Lips on sectarian Britain; and reb Matgamna on Galloway, from the archive. More analysis from LFF.

Anglo-Jewry
I wrote a whole bunch in Judy's comment thread here, about her allegations of Labour entrism in Anglo-Jewish communal bodies. 

Islamism
I have thought further about my last Islamism post, and semi-retract some of what I said. Read the comments here. Kind of related (and also to the stuff above), I'm tempted to pay £1 to read Respect's Salma Yaqoob, Quilliam's Maajid Nawaz and two other British Muslims talking about how Bosnia in the 1990s changed their lives. And Yves Coleman on whether the far left will learn from Toulouse.

Also (and mostly related to the above)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brother Outsider

This month saw the centenary of the birth of the great Bayard Rustin. He has long been a political inspiration of mine, but I think he is a good guiding light for our times now. Two appreciations of him in particular resonated with me. Richard Kahlenberg:
Rustin’s seminal 1965 article in Commentary, “From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement,” suggested that with passage of civil-rights legislation having destroyed “the legal foundation of racism,” it was necessary to take on issues of class inequality that continued to weigh down many African Americans—and low-income people of other races as well. With blacks constituting just one-tenth of the U.S. population, they needed allies, Rustin said, as he called for reinvigorating the March on Washington coalition of “Negroes, trade unionists, liberals, and religious groups.” 
As “I Must Resist,” makes clear, Rustin opposed racial-preference programs in part because they would sunder this progressive coalition. He wrote in a 1974 letter: “to transform the demand for Negro rights into a call for the displacement of whites would inevitably elicit instantaneous and widespread resistance from a society otherwise disposed to view the civil-rights agenda favorably.” He argued, “weakening the merit principle and legitimate standards does no benefit to society, least of all to minorities.” Rustin knew that lower-middle-class whites were a swing vote in America, and that “the question is not whether this group is conservative or liberal, for it is both, and how it acts will depend upon the way the issues are defined.” Racial preferences encouraged working-class whites to vote their race, not their class.
 And Eric Lee:
Rustin moved in the same circles as Max Shachtman, and eventually shared Shachtman’s views on issues like the Vietnam War. While many on the left supported a Communist victory in Vietnam, seeing Ho Chi Minh as some kind of Vietnamese George Washington, Rustin took a more nuanced view, and supported a negotiated settlement that might result in an American withdrawal from the country without necessarily giving Ho control of the south.
When the North Vietnamese army triumphed in 1975, Rustin spoke out at small, hastily-organized demonstrations called to highlight the plight of the “boat people”. 
Rustin, like his mentor, the legendary A. Philip Randolph, was a lifelong supporter of the trade union movement. He set up the A. Philip Randolph Institute which for decades served as the centre for Black trade unionists and build strong ties between the Black community and trade unions. And he did this despite the overt racism of many of those unions — a racism he fought against from within the movement, and not as an outsider.[...] 
Like most Black leaders in the US in the early 1960s, Rustin felt very close to the Jewish community and the state of Israel. The bonds formed in the early days of the civil rights movement between Blacks and Jews were still quite strong. When this became unfashionable following Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War and a bitter teachers’ strike in New York City, Rustin remained firm in his beliefs. As tensions increased between the Black and Jewish communities, Rustin organized the Black Americans Support Israel Committee (BASIC) and continued to push for reconciliation between the two communities.[...] 
Eric continues with a story from 1974, of Rustin speaking against "tribalism" to some student radicals:
It was not fashionable to oppose Black separatism back then, in the early 1970s. But Bayard Rustin never gave a damn about being fashionable.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Culture wars

Cheap booze now! (Gay marriage later.)
The decision to introduce minimum prices per unit of alcohol has meant my post on that topic has had some Twitter action over the weekend. Read it here, or read Patrick Hayes saying some related things here. The decision was preceded by a whole raft of Budget decisions designed to shift more wealth from the working and out of work poor to the very rich, more proof that this Coalition government has declared class war.

The IFS have analysed the likely impact and found that people within "safe" limits will pay "£40 and £71 extra per year for their alcohol if they buy their drink from supermarkets and off-licences" and that this figure holds whether you're rich (and won't notice it) or poor (and will). Another finding is that "The policy could also lead to substantial transfers of revenue to the alcohol industry." Of course, the drinks industry does not donate money to the Tories. On the other hand, as Carl points out, it will also benefit community pubs, which are closing at a scary rate, which is probably true, but not a big enough benefit to offset the offensiveness.

Talking of Patrick Hayes, I think Sarah supplied my favourite-est ever comment ever on my cheap booze post, asking if someone had Spiked my drink.With that in mind, I enjoyed this post by Ophelia Benson on Brendan O'Neil on gay marriage. Best bit:
And Brendan O’Neill, who is a coal miner from the very rudest part of Glasgow, knows this because coal miners have a Deep Instinctual Knowledge of elite-formation and cultural signifiers, which they adeptly turn into think-pieces for scrofulous little outlets like Spiked.
Londonism/KenWatch
The London elections coming in May - the first major elections since Cameron took the reigns - should be an opportunity for the capital to pass judgement on the vile Coalition government. Instead, the media, parties and candidates are doing their best to ensure the election is all about personalities, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to stomach giving my vote to Ken Livingstone. Here's some reading on that: Andrew Gilligan on Ken's Islamophilia; A letter from Jewish Labour supportersJonathan Freedland says I've backed Ken Livingstone for mayor before, but this time I just can't do it; Atul Hatwal on Livingstone's crumbling Labour flank; Dan Rickman is Ken's last Jewish supporter; Jim on Ken's criminal communalism and oppurtunism.

About the best case for voting Ken I've come across (and it's a damning one) is from Jim Denham:
Two bottom lines: vote Labour. And expel Livingstone from the Party.  
If poor Eric Joyce can be expelled simply for getting pissed and punching a few Tories, then surely Livingstone’s blatant antisemitism should be sufficient to get him booted out.

I’ve campaigned and voted for candidates as bad as Livingstone before: Liam Byrne for one. Voting Labour is a class duty, not a petty bourgeois choice. But that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate whatever the Party machine serves up. Miliband’s defence of the racist Livingstone is disgraceful. Livingstone must be expelled. 
But until he is, we must reluctantly vote for him, as the official Labour candidate.
Anyone got any better reason?

Faith and reason, tolerance and terror
I have once or twice used (or at least thunk) phrases like "militant secularist" or "secular fundamentalist". I find the anti-God propaganda of the Hitchkins extremely tedious. But recently I've been swaying somewhat towards the Hitchkins position by what seems like the increased belligerence of the militants of the faith-based persuasion. Nick Cohen had an excellent post about this, written on the occasion of the wonderful Peter Tatchell's receipt of the Secularist of the Year award. Relevant reading: Anne Marie Waters on middle clas feminists and Sharia law, Rupert Sutton on faith-based homophobes on campus. In my last post, I already mentioned Sunder's excellent review of DV8's Can We Talk About This? (more reviews here), but read it now if you didn't then.


After Toulouse
In her link to Nick Cohen's piece above, Ophelia Benson says "That guy on the scooter in Toulouse? I’m betting he’s not a reader of Richard Dawkins." She wrote that before we knew who the shooter was, and I guess she was proved right. A lot of nothingness has been said about the shootings by a lot of people, including those (like me) who sprung to the conclusion that the shooter must be a white racist, as well as those who have spoken since the perpetrator was identified. I have to confess that part of me was hoping the shooter would be a white racist. We don't need any more provocation for anti-Muslim racism, I thought. I'm ashamed of that reflex now.

Jim Denham and Nick Cohen said sensible things about this. Read them. Here's the key bit from Jim's post:
But we on the left – and, especially, that section of the left that was inclined to put the killings down to the “political context” – now have some explaining to do. As the simplistic "It is no coincidence that Sarkozy’s racism has been followed by one of the worst racist attacks in France in a generation” explanation has been blown out of the water, we are now obliged to offer our more considered analysis and explanation, in the light of what we now know.
I am not the first to note that when a terrorist is a white neo-Nazi, the liberal-left will focus on his ideology, beliefs and any evidence of a supportive mainstream discourse. However if a terrorist is an Islamist, the same people focus exclusively on his grievances and deprivations. Here’s a particularly crass example, all the more unpleasant because it doesn’t even mention antisemitism as a factor in the equation. Note, also, that the (non) ”explanation” given in this dreadful little piece of hackery and insult-to-the-intelligence, could have been wheeled out just as well, had the perpetrator been a member of the white far-right. 
The problem with much of the “left”, when it comes to Islamist terrorism, is that they (the “left”) deny any autonomy to the perpetrators. Unlike white far-right terrorists, Islamists are not (it would seem) thinking individuals, autonomous actors, motivated by any coherent ideology. They’re merely victims who react to external forces – racism, “islamophobia,” alienation, poverty, imperialism, etc, etc. The “left” (or at least, a large part of it) effectively infantilises these people, denying them even the perverse dignity of being responsible for their own actions, and of having their own internally coherent political agenda. And that is, ultimately, a form of racism in itself.
The bottom line is that Islamism is one of the most, probably the most, pernicious ideologies in existence today, and combating it, by any means necessary, is surely one of the most, possibly the most, urgent task we face.

This remains true, even if we can - and must - qualify this in several ways. As Ed Husain and Rabbi David Meyer have eloquently noted, we must not let Toulouse intensify Muslim/Jewish antagonism. And we mustn't take our eyes of the threat posed by violent anti-Muslim bogotry. In Sunder's review of Can We Talk About This? he mentioned "the central importance of the symbiotic relationship between Islamist and populist far right extremism, each giving its purported enemy the recruiting poster slogans to demonstrate the conspiracy that they must fight, furthering their mutually beneficial mission of polarizing the public debate into a foundational clash of civilizations." And it is also worth noting (as Jim does) that Islamism is a form of far right politics too. But still...

Jew-hatred
I guess this topic is relevant to the previous three. A recent ADL poll suggests the extent of antisemitism in the UK, and its recent growth, with dual loyalty accusations and the alleged connection to finance capital among the themes. Along with the "avenging Palestine" motivation of Mohamed Merah and any number of examples from the most recent CST incident report, it is clear that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are close relatives, one often serving as the alibi or the vehicle or the vector of spread for the other.

Anti-ness
Lots of interesting material on Contested Terrain at the moment, including the stuff you might miss in the top right, such as Lipstadt on Eichmann’s Antisemitism and Arendt and Claude Lanzmann interview in The Guardian, as well as the material from Shift. Here's a prescient anticipation of the Occupy movement, from my comrade SL at his new unpronounceable blog. And IWCA on deglobalisation.

Image credits: Dirt cheep beer from Cooking Lager; Ken Livingstone and al-Qaradawi from Andrew Gilligan; Faith and Reason from Haunted TimberPeople march through the streets of Paris on March 19 after the Ozar Hatorah Hebrew school shooting, from MSNBC..

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

For Nowruz

[Yesterday was Nowruz, Persian New Year - the vernal equinox and the first day of Spring, a day for cleansing and visiting.]
Graffiti in Iran in solidarity with Nasrin Sotoudeh, imprisoned for defending victims of the Iranian regime. Let Nasrin's children hug their beloved mother at home!

[The men] raised their voices enough to be overheard. Quoting the late Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou, one of them recited:
     They smell your breath,     lest you might have said I love you.      They smell your heart.     These are strange times, my darling.      The butchers are stationed at each      crossroads with bloody clubs and cleavers.  
Gesturing toward Tehran in the distance, he said, “There are the new butchers. They sniff out everything, not only in public but in private life, too.” His friends nodded. One of them said, “The people’s frustrations will find an outlet once the cracks in the monolith begin to appear.”
That's Jon Lee Anderson, writing in the New Yorker in 2010. When will the monolith break open?

This week, I read that the Iranian government has sentenced an Iranian-born computer software programmer, Saeed Malekpour, to death. Resident in Canada, he was arrested in 2008 when he returned home to visit his dying father. His crime? Designing software that enables pictures to be uploaded to the internet, allegedly used by others to upload pornography. "Malekpour was charged with the crime of Mofsed fel-Arz, or spreading corruption on Earth, a crime punishable by death." As Weggis says, "Just who is corrupt here?"

Here in Britain, Darren tells us about his mate at work singing  Ahmad Shamlou, "beautiful beyond words in the aisles at Sainsburys."

In Saeed Malekpour's adopted home, Canada, Noga writes:
There is not a day passes when I don't think of my cyberfriend Selma, the former, brilliant multi-talented blogger who wrote with love from Tehran. Last I heard, she had to make a choice that no human being should be forced to make these days: her future or her independent voice. She chose her future and since then her voice went silent. 
There are warring calls floating about, and existential fears. I fear for my country, Israel, the target of Iran's religiously mad regime with their genocidal threats and determination. I fear for my family and friends in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa. I fear for my friend and her family and friends in Tehran. 
At no time does the power of friendship seem of so little consequence in this brutal and irrational world of ours. 
Selma once told us that she is a great fan of Leonard Cohen. One of her favourite is this song. 
This Saturday morning I want to think of Selma and to wish her all that is good and abiding. 
Friendship is round and smooth, with no ends, no sharp angles. It is also fragile. When confronted with politics, it seems small and insignificant, irrelevant. Politics forces us to make choices that in a genuinely humanistic world concerned with human rights, we should no longer be making. 
These are the words of Ahmad Shamlou's poem, "In this impasse", which Darren's friend sang in the supermarket aisles:*
They smell your breath.
Lest you said "I love you."
They smell your heart.
These are strange times, darling...
And they flog love
at the roadblock.
We had better hide love in the closet...
In this crooked dead end and twisting chill,
they feed the fire
with the kindling of song and poetry.
Do not risk a thought.
These are strange times, darling...
He who knocks on the door at midnight
has come to kill the light.
We had better hide light in the closet...
Those there are butchers
stationed at the crossroads
with bloody clubs and cleavers.
These are strange times, darling...
And they excise smiles from lips
and songs from mouths.
We had better hide joy in the closet...
Canaries barbecued
on a fire of lilies and jasmine,
these are strange times, darling...
Satan drunk with victory
sits at our funeral feast.
We had better hide God in the closet.
It was written in July 1979. Shamlou had fought against and been persecuted by the Shah's regime. He returned from exile, enthusiastic about the revolution, and was soon disillusioned:
young men and women were sent into the streets to enforce the moral code of the shari'a or religious law... They "smelled the mouth" if they suspected someone of drinking alcohol, which could be followed by a lashing, and they wiped lipstick from women's mouths, sometimes even cutting the lips with a razor.

You can listen to the same reading with music by Babak Afshar here. Here is Dariush Eghbali singing it:


Ahmed Shamlou, like Leonard Cohen, was influenced by Federico Garcia Lorca, who is a favourite of Noga too. He said "I, an Iranian poet, first learned poetry from the Spanish Lorca, the frenchman Éluard, the German Rilke, the Russian Mayakovsky [...] and the American Langston Hughes; and only later, with this education I turned to the poems of my mother tongue to see and to know, say, the grandeur of Hafiz from a fresh perspective."

The butchers at the roadblock in the poem above are the same as the police who raid the Gypsy "city of  sorrow  and musk" in Lorca's "Ballad of the Spanish Civil Guard", here in Persian translation:
When night came near,
night that night deepened,
the gypsies at their forges
beat out suns and arrows.
A badly wounded stallion
knocked against all the doors.
Roosters of glass were crowing
through Jerez de la Frontera.
چندان که شب فرود می آمد
شب ، شبِ کامل ،
کولیان بر سندان های خویش
پیکان و خورشید می ساختند.
اسبی خون آلوده
بر درهای گنگ می کوفت
 خروسانِ شیشه یی بانگ سر می دادند.
       
The city, free from fear,
multiplied its doors.
Forty civil guards
enter them to plunder.
The clocks came to a halt,
شهر ، آزاد از هراس
درهایش را تکثیر می کرد.
چهل گارد سیویل
از پی تاراج بدان در آمدند.
ساعت ها از حرکت باز ایستاد

And here, for Selma - but also for Saeed, for Darren's friend in the supermarket, for Nasrin Sotoude, for all the Gypsies at their forges the world over awaiting the knock at the door from the civil guards - is Selma's favourite song, "Dance Me to the End of Love".


Links: Iran: Quash Convictions and Free Rights Advocates (HRW); Treatment of returned asylum seekers in Iran (NCADC); Kurdish political prisoner Habibollah Golparipour transferred to undisclosed location; at risk of imminent execution  (IHRDC); Christians in Isfahan face increasing pressure and arrests (IHRDC); Severe Beating and Transfer of Kurdish Prisoner Mostafa Salimi to Solitary Cell  (IHRDC);  Three prisoners were hanged in Qazvin yesterday- 18 executions in one week (IHR);  'We are ordered to crush you’: Expanding repression of dissent in Iran (IranRights); Iran targeting ex-pats (HuffPo); Iranian family sues for American dream (AZ Central); Take it Easy Hospital (The Poor Mouth).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You know the score by now

Yeah, one of those big, fat, unthemed posts.

Atzmon update
Further to this: returning to the Guardian bookshop issue, CiFWatch reports that the Guardian has once again removed Atzmon from its on-line book stock list; Norm finds the Guardian to be making a proverbial mountain out of a. Here's an amusing Zionist account of Atzmon's pathetic appearance in San Francisco. Here's Dershowitz on the Friends Seminary and Atzmon, Meanwhile, Counterpunch continue to promote the antisemite, although most of his supporters these days are white supremacists, 9/11 truth nuts, Holocaust deniers and other oddballs (Cynthia McKinney, Gordon Duff, Kevin Barrett, Jay Knott, etc - no links to those sorts here). And what's with this big bushy mountain man beard Atzmon's grown for his "grassroots tour" of America?

American politics
Roland interviews Social Democrats USA.

Islamism, faith, campus politics and intolerance
Paul Stott plays Islam Awareness Week bingo. Tehmina Kazi on One Law for All at Queen Mary. David Osler on the right to wear a cross at work. Sunder Katwala on DV8's Can We Talk About this? Rahila Gupta on the place of faith. If you're interested in that sort of stuff, check out Freethinking Stokie and The Walk.


In the Middle East
Several via Entdinglichung on the struggle for freedom from Iran to North Africa: Vijay Prashad: Arab Spring, Syria and the left: ‘No support for authoritarian regimes, no support for imperialism’ (Links); Kurdish Opposition of Syria speaks up (Support Kurds in Syria); Yacov Ben Efrat: The Syrian nation is victim of the Cold War (Challenge); Assaf Adiv: The crisis of violence in the Arab street (Challenge); Hundreds protest living costs across West Bank (Ma’an News Agency); Unemployment in Iran Doubled in the Course of the Year (iran labor report); 600 Metal Industries Workers Close Down the Street (iran labor report); Yanar Mohammed: Campaign of Iraqi gay killings by smashing skulls with concrete blocks (Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq). Plus: the Arab world's first ladies of oppression; the plight of independent trade unionists in Iraq; Seamas Milne's anti-imperialism of fools; Assad's friends; Mehdi Hasan as objective supporter of Assad.

Anti-fascism
Pink Prosecco on Hope not Hate. Paul Stott on the Tommy Robinson show.

Londonism
Jim Denham and Andrew Smith on Ken Livingstone.

Crankwatch

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Disavowing Atzmon: Not quite humans/Granting no quarter

In late February, a text appeared signed by several  North American "anti-imperialist" activists sharply condemning Gilad Atzmon, the bizarre antisemitic ex-Israeli jazz musician recently more notorious for his strange political writings than his music. Entitled "Not Quite "Ordinary Human Beings" -- Anti-Imperialism and the Anti-Humanist Rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon", it was written in response to the news that Atzmon was due to tour the US to promote his dreadful book The Wondering Who.

The signatories ranged from people not too politically distant from me, such as Chip Berlet, Bill Weinberg, Doug Henwood and Michael Lyons, through to people I'd not want to go near with someone else's bargepole, such as As'ad AbuKhalil ("The Angry Arab") and Ben White.

I first saw it at MRZine, and was surprised to see two footnotes linking to this blog. After documenting Atzmon's indisputable antisemitism, the text continues:
It is, as such, not surprising that Atzmon's work has received enthusiastic reviews by such prominent members of the racist right as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Kevin MacDonald of the Occidental Observer, David Icke, and Arthur Topham's the Radical Press. It should not be surprising that Atzmon has distributed articles defending Holocaust deniers and those who write of "the Hitler we loved and why."15 These connections ultimately serve the interests of Zionism, which seeks to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Jewishness. Zionist agents have repeatedly attempted to ensnare and link Palestinian, Arab, and/or Muslim rights advocates to Neo-Nazism, through dirty tricks and outright lies.

It is more surprising and disappointing, then, that a small section of the left has opted to promote Atzmon and his works. In the UK, the Socialist Workers Party promoted Atzmon for several years16 before finally breaking with him; his latest book The Wandering Who? has been published by the left-wing Zero Books (a decision that elicited a letter of protest from several Zero authors).17 In the United States, the widely-read Counterpunch website has repeatedly chosen to run articles by Atzmon. Currently, in February and March 2012, Atzmon is on tour in North America, where several of his speaking engagements are being organized by progressive anti-imperialists whom we would normally like to consider our allies.
While perhaps well-meaning, operating under the assumption that any opposition to Zionism is to be welcomed, progressives who promote the work of Atzmon are in fact surrendering the moral high ground by encouraging a belief-system that simply mirrors that of the most racist section of Israeli society.  Anti-racism is not a liability; on the contrary, it is a principle that makes our movements stronger in the long fight for a better tomorrow.
There are seventeen footnotes in all. These were first two footnotes in the extract here:

15  "Gilad Atzmon, the SWP and Holocaust Denial," BobFromBrockley, June 13, 2005.
16  "Gilad Atzmon and the SWP: a Brief Chronology,"BobFromBrockley, October 5, 2011.
The text continued to circulate, accruing signatories. The text was also revised. I am not quite painstaking enough to see what the revisions are, but the only one I can spot is that there are now sixteen footnotes, with no.15 sensibly replaced by Tony Greenstein, "Bookmarks & Invitation to Gilad Atzmon & Holocaust Denial," JustPeaceUK, Yahoo! Groups, June 9, 2005 (which is what I quoted in my 2005 blog post). Less sensibly, my chronology, although itself not adequately referenced, has been deleted, thus losing any substantiation for the point about the SWP's slavish devotion to Atzmon from 2004 to 2009.

Hmmm.

Anyway, you can read the "revised" version at Three-Way FightJfJfP (along with reviews of Atzmon's books by a couple of his UK anti-Zionist critics).

Meanwhile, a second (more eloquent but highly flawed) critique has appeared - entitled "Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon" - with an overlapping set of signatories, this time more weighted towards those of Palestinian origins. HP reproduced the text here.

In the comments there, Judy said:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rounding up the cats

It’s ages since I did one of my regular big round-up posts, and I have an enormous backlog of stuff sitting in my inbox, Twitter feed, bookmarks and elsewhere, so I’ll just dump some of it here. Hope you find something of worth amongst it all.

Independent blogging

The Third Estate had a post recently on the poor state of British political blogging these days, with a complete domination by political parties and major media corporations. The voice of the independent blogger, with their own unique opinion, is more marginal than ever; the diversity of voices promised by Web 2.0 and social media seems to have been replaced by an amplification of the same voices.

(Nick Cohen made a similar point in an excellent recent column: “Far from freeing us from its dead hand, as its boosters promised, the web encourages conformism. The afflicted move from the doctrinaire old media (the politicised press in Britain, politicised broadcasting of the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh/Jon Stewart variety in the States) to websites that preach to the converted. They are caught in a loop and hear opposing views only when their propagandists subject them to ridicule.”)

The Third Estate suggest that independent bloggers need to do more to support each other, directing our pool of readers to other independent blogs. Obviously, that’s not a task I fail at – directing readers to other people’s blogs is about all I do here these days – but I certainly endorse the suggestion. In its spirit, here are a couple of UK-based independent political blogs that spring to mind, which you should make sure you’re reading regularly: HarpyMarx, for a left feminist perspective on Tory Britain, plus nice pictures of South London wildlife; Though Cowards Flinch, for maverick left politics and sophisticated economic analysis; Obliged to Offend, for articulate, angry denunciations of bad stuff; Fighting Talk, for Sunderland football, Yorkshire politics and Hackney history; the stylish Second Council House of Virgo, with a very particular Scottish left feminist perspective; The Great Unrest, an open-minded multi-author historically-inflected seditiously-radical blog; and the Soupy One, for stuff on fascism, racism and democracy. Meanwhile, putting their money where their mouth is, Third Estate have a “Best of the Red Web” post up, with a couple of excellent choices, if I may say so, and a couple less so.

Meanwhile, Sarah mentioned my “What are they saying” post to invite readers to supply some of the more memorable reviews and insults they’ve received on the interweb. HP hoovers up all comments and puts them in the dustbin of history after a while, so here’s some I liked. On Sarah: “The woman is a dirty two-faced dog. What I wrote wasn’t anywhere near her level of deception. I know she is normal for HP types, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal.” On Flying Rodent: “Transphobic hatemonger” and “sybaritic”. (Cipriano replied: “Personally, I’d be honoured and gratified to be called “sybaritic”. Would that I could afford to be so any more.”)

Profiting from poverty

Few news items have angered me as much, for some reason, as the one about the government’s “Families Czar” Emma Harrison paying herself £8.6 million a year for running a private company that is paid tax dollars to pretend to get benefit claimants back to work. Harrison, who lives a life unbelievably far removed from the families she is supposed to be all about, has resigned both from running her enormously profitable workfare company A4e and from her additional part-time job chatting to Cameron about those dreadful poor families. I’m not particularly an advocate of a state monopoly on delivering welfare services (indeed, third sector and community groups often do it better), but it seems obscene to me that we should be subsidising the massive profits of companies like A4e.

And the payment by results regime under which Coalition workfare policies operate seems to encourage either economy with the truth (as with A4e) and/or excessive zeal in finding ways of getting results, often with dire indirect consequences. Another offender is Atos, a French company that has also been found to be declaring people fit to work who patently aren’t, in order to beef up their results – see more on them from Louise.


The regime also seems detrimental to actually opening up the system to small providers: big for-profits have what it takes to get the big contracts, sub-contracting to small charities to do the actual work but creaming off most of the profit margin.

And the other thing about the workfare regime is it rests on the assumption that unemployment is the fault of the unemployed, rather than of the labour market, which is the sort of assumption you make if you have a lifestyle like Emma Harrison’s or George Osborne’s.

A local blog for local people

TMP has a report of the second police meeting in response to the police shooting of a disturbed man down the road from me on Stansted Road (the South Circular between Forest Hill and Catford) a few weekends ago - not widely enough reported, apart from by Transpontine – as well of Chuka Umunna’s response to the spate of stabbings in South London. Transpontine has a post on the history of the colour bar in Forest Hill’s pubs and calls last orders at the Montague Arms in New Cross. Deptford Misc has the latest on the Convoys site in SE8.


Anti-fascism

A round-up of recent events from Freedom. Justin on challenging the BNP in Surbiton. Glasgow anarchists on challenging the Scottish Defence League and their allies in Glasgow, and Mhari reflecting on the situation there. For the historians: Anti-Fascist Archive. HP on the fascists in UAF.

Liberal fundamentalism

A Jay Adler has an excellent defence of freedom from religion here. On a related topic, Rupert Sutton of Student Rights has a depressing HuffPo post on the University of Westminster Students Union’s love affair with the theocratic Hizb-ut-Tahrir, who in turn libellously accused their “liberal fundamentalist” attackers, including Peter Tatchell, of inciting violence against them.

Chavs and Gypsies

James Bloodworth has a great post entitled “When did looking down on others become the national pastime?” on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and all the rest of the near-ubiquitous TV content based on vicious sneering at the relatively vulnerable: “Wherever you look this type of “entertainment” has gradually taken over our television screens, pumping up the self-esteem of the middle classes by giving a sly kick to those clinging on to the lower rungs of the social ladder.” Recommended. Mhairi McAlpine writes on a related topic, “classism”, here. (And if you are actually interested in Irish Travellers, read this post by Ben on boxing.)

Marxish

Matthew Lyons does a good job of summarising a long and complex Loren Goldner piece about on Bolivia's Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR), "Anti-Capitalism or Anti-Imperialism? Interwar Authoritarian and Fascist Sources of a Reactionary Ideology: The Case of the Bolivian MNR." (The article appeared in Insurgent Notes #3 but is available in more readable format as a PDF from Goldner's website, Break Their Haughty Power.) Although the MNR may not be of interest to all that many of my readers, alas, the issues are important for anyone who wants to think about reactionary and populist forms of “anti-capitalism”, an important topic in context both of the Occupy movement, the rise of a populist Alinskyite left in the US and now UK, and the continued importance of the Latin American left.

The Arab Spring, Islamist winter and Syrian slaughter

Please read Kellie on Syrian consequences. Also: Beirut Spring on the Future Movement and Lebanese Salafis; Jeffrey Goldberg on the Arab Spring and its antisemitic dark side; Toby Jones on the price of dissent in Saudi Arabia; Elliot Abrams on America’s duplicity over Syria.

Antisemitism

Ignoblus on the film Act of Valor being possibly antisemitic. I hadn’t heard of it, but his aside at the end struck a chord:
it's a shame here to rely on right-wing blogs and a few references to mainstream or non-partisan blogs. One of the most significant ways that antisemitism is structured is by silence -- so that few people have a clue what it is or how serious it is -- which is the primary approach to antisemitism of the anti-racist blogs I would normally look to for better reviews. There have been numerous calls for the Left to take the cause of antisemitism back from the Right, which has seized it primarily because of the Left's negligence. Most of the Left only deals with antisemitism at all when it is getting in the way of their criticizing Jews for something else. However, even most of the Leftists calling for such a thing haven't actually done shit about it.
See also TCF on Baroness Tonge and Ken O’Keefe.

Ultra-miscellaneous

AWL on why unions should not break with Histadrut. A trip to MILF island. Marko on Angelina Jolie’s Land of Blood and Honey. Dennis MacShane on the EU’s hand-out to the far right. Paul Goodman on preventing violent extremism. Rob Marchant on why Occupy failed.

Finally

These are the google searches bringing the most readers to my site this week: gnome with jack daniels, Iraq porn, jewish east end, pete seeger, project x gnome shirts and airforce gnome.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Ken and Boris show, 2012


It’s springtime in a GLA election year, and I am faced once again with the electoral decision I hate the most: who to vote for as London mayor. The transferable vote system means that it is possible to put a first preference for a less undesirable candidate (such as the Green Party’s Jenny Jones) without feeling your vote is thereby completely wasted, but in the end it is likely to come down to Ken versus Boris. Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson both have major positive qualities. They both have big personalities and are enjoyable to listen to, which is welcome in an age of bland cloned politicians genetically engineered by spin doctors and PR consultants. They are both explicitly ideological figures, a welcome relief in a post-political age when the centre ground is all the parties are interested in politics and ideology, which is welcome in our post-political times. They are both dissidents within their own parties on key issues, with Boris for example speaking against some of the most harmful of the Coalition’s brutal welfare policies and endorsing a London Living Wage that is significantly above the national Minimum. Both are signed up to the Strangers into Citizens policy which seeks to regularise London’s undocumented working migrants, which swims sharply against the national mainstream. Both, in different ways, are people I can imagine actually enjoying having a drink with – which I can’t say for hardly any major politicians. Ken has by far the best policies for London, and managed the complex beast that is this metropolis in a very impressive way.

On the other hand, Ken has some views I find truly reprehensible, with affection for dictators and theocrats that rivals George Galloway’s. Both have the smell of cronyism and nepotism around them. Both are rather economical with the truth when it suits them.

Ken’s eight political advisorsincluding “John Ross, Mr Livingstone's economic adviser; Redmond O'Neill, his adviser on transport; Simon Fletcher, his chief of staff, and Mark Watts, his climate change adviser, all of whom are current or former senior members of Trotskyite group Socialist Action” – received a total of £1.6 million from the London taxpayer in severance payment when Ken was voted out. Apparently, City Hall’s staff went from a planned 350 to nearly 800 on Ken’s watch, with all sorts of placemen and placewomen. Boris promised a leaner regime, but has only lost 95 people, with almost none of them actually having their jobs axed.
Under Boris, the total number of City Hall officials earning more than £100,000 has nearly doubled to 28 at the same time as he has significantly raised transport fares. One example is Munira Mirza, Boris's 34-year-old adviser on culture and youth, who last year when she expanded her role received a 55 per cent pay rise from £80,000 to £127,784. As a mayoral adviser, she now earns just £7,000 less than the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Munira, regular readers will know, is part of the Revolutionary Communist Party/Spiked sect. Her recent book, retailing for £50 and presumably written in her own time and not during her dayjob, has been pulped for mildly amusing copyright related reasons.

Meanwhile, Ken’s coterie has dispersed. For example, one of the eight getting that big payout I mentioned, Murziline Parchment has secured (without a formal selection process) a sinecure at Tower Hamlets. And Tony Winterbottom is now earning a grand a day working for the Ken-endorsed (allegedly) Islamist directly-elected mayor of that borough, Lutfar Rahman. As Dave Hill put it, Rahman won that election "despite being accused of being incompetent, corrupt and beholden to local businessmen and shadowy Muslim extremists".

Another person given a job by Lutfar with no selection process is Ger Francis, a secondee. Francis was an SWP organiser in Birmingham, close to Salma Yaqoob and heavily involved in building Stop the War and Respect there in the early 2000s. He was sacked from his organiser’s job in the SWP with no explanation, after incredibly heavy-handed sectarian tactics against socialists in Birmingham who resisted the SWP’s cosying up to Islamist theocracy and patriarchy. (This is documented by Sue Blackwell here and Steve Davies here.) He later parted ways with the SWP, when it backtracked from this cosying up. This is what Andy Newman wrote when Francis was expelled in 2007:

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Loony leftism

So, I still haven't finished part 3 of my anti-fascist series, nor part 2 of my mixing pop and politics series, nor the post on Ken and Boris I've been working on, nor the big round-up of random links I keep on the boil but needs editing before going on-line. So, in the meantime, I will irritate my regular readers with some snips from The Commentator's regular "Loony left" column.

This is from the latest instalment:
MEHDI HASAN CUTTING FAST AND LOOSE 
This feature is in its third week and Leftist firebrand Mehdi Hasan has yet to pop up. Shocking really. But it was only a matter of time. Infamous for playing fast and loose with the facts, Hasan pulled off a cut and paste job this week that was really quite something. 
Speaking about Jenny Tonge – the (ex) Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords who this week disgraced herself by adding to her portfolio of Israel hatred – he said: “Her comment, in full, doesn't seem so controversial” He then presents the quote, supposedly in full, thus: “Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form” – (his emphasis).  
In his defence, Hasan’s column in The New Statesman is prefaced as “polemic” and just as well. You see, whatHasan fails to disclose is a) the actual full quote and b) the context.
What she actually said was: “Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present performance....Israel will lose its support and then they will reap what they have sown” (my italics) – a threat made in the context of an event whose purpose was to delegitimise Israel and made by a fanatical anti-Zionist who has gone on record saying she could imagine becoming a suicide bomber had she been born a Palestinian.  
Hasan should be more careful; confirmation bias and cherry picking are all part of the same dangerous game.   
A man once said, “Today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator…” I guess that’s fair enough; seems like a stand-up guy, right? Well yes, until you learn that the man was Adolf Hitler and that he finished that sentence with “…by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.' Ah...
And from the first instalment, "the Sean Penn editition":

RACE FOR LONDON MAYOR: KEN VS. BORIS 
The New Statesman published a chart this week -- ‘Boris regains lead over Ken’ -- after February’s YouGov poll shows Johnson two points ahead in the race for City Hall.
But how’s this for an unbelievable statistic: according to the Staggers it turns out that Ken’s ‘impressive “fairer fares” campaign is supported by 68 per cent of voters’ but that ‘just 44 per cent believe he would fulfil his pledge if elected’. 
Of course Ken’s “fairer fares” campaign (which proposes to cut fares by seven percent) is impressive – just as it would be impressive for him to pledge the reincarnation of Christ using a piece of DNA from a crumb of burnt toast bearing his resemblance.* 
Ah, thought I was shocked that as many as 66 people out of 100 don’t believe what Ken says? Incorrect; I can’t believe that as many as 44 actually do. 
Ken’s track record is dodgier than a back-street dentist. He’s lied about his record on crime, he effectively called himself a “dehumanised moron” when he lied about Routemaster buses, and in the past he has U-turned on – you guessed it – transport fares more times than a dog chasing its own tail. 
(*Disclaimer: to my knowledge, Ken has never actually pledged the second coming – though I suspect he might if he thought it’d make up those two poll points.)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

What’s wrong with Unite Against Fascism?

This year, in February, Unite Against Fascism, a top-down front group of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), held elections for the very first time. Justin Baidoo, a trade union and socialist activist in South London, has been one of the main activists in the South London Anti-Fascist Group (now South London Community Action Network). Justin stood against SWP hack Martin Smith for the post of assistant secretary.

Justin was prevented from standing on a technicality. UAF’s SWP controllers’ chose not to find a way around the technicality and preferred to eliminate him from standing: Stalinist/Putinist style, they declared the one candidate duly elected without a vote, with no option to re-open nominations. I am unable to comment on that process, and think Justin had a lucky escape, but think it is worth looking at the platform on which he challenged the UAF misleadership.

Justin’s platform had five planks, and I partly endorse all of them, but have doubts too. (My doubts are similar to those of Waterloo Sunset, in his comments when I posted a short version of this series.)

First, Justin argues that UAF is undemocratic. This was evidently the case, and Justin is to be commended for challenging it. UAF has no mechanisms for democratically debating leadership, policies, strategies or tactics.